Backlog Battle Report (6th Nov 2017)

Couple of things before we go into this week’s update. Firstly, you might notice that there’s been a new Right Click to Zoom at long last in the post below this one, so if you didn’t know about that I’d strongly suggest checking it out. I spoke at length about Morrowind, one of my favourite games, not to mention one of the most influential on me when growing up.

Second, I’m giving a quick plug to a new website called Switch Indie Reviews which, well… is a website for Nintendo Switch indie reviews. Go figure, right? It’s brand new, it looks really shiny, and I just so happen to have applied for and been accepted to be a staff writer for it. So if you like my work and want to see more of it, there’ll be articles there in the coming days. I’ll be sure to link all those reviews back to this blog for conciseness, so please look forward to that.

On to the games, then!

DOOM 2016 (PC) — I’m a man of my word

Last week I was in the mood to play some DOOM and listening to the soundtrack, so this week I followed suit with that and played a bit more. I rarely invest a lot of time into it, but it’s fantastic for just picking up and playing another level or two of the campaign every so often. Shouldn’t take me much longer to finish it I’d imagine, but no big if it does; it’s just a very satisfying and visceral experience that’s great to just pick up, play, and put down without commitment.

The game does occasionally get a little bit of criticism that it just falls into the pattern of “find an obvious arena, trigger it filling with demons, kill the demons to proceed”. Personally, while this is obviously a big part of it, I haven’t found it nearly as obnoxious or as one-dimensional as some claim. There is a small chunk of downtime in between each of these encounters, where you’re given a chance to explore, find secrets, and wind the tempo down a little before building back up explosively.

Perhaps this changes as the levels get later, but regardless, I find that I’m often in a fairly good rhythm with it. All that said, I did immediately dump my upgrades into having secrets and collectables appear on my map so I can hunt them all down and get back to the shooting quickly. My completionist tendencies are likely to get the better of me if I keep wandering too long.

Damn, even thinking about this game makes me want to play some more. What a great shooter DOOM is.

Fire Emblem Warriors (Switch) — Rosterpocalypse

Full review of the game is still forthcoming and in draft phase, but I’ve pretty much completed the large majority of the game now. There’s a bunch of extra missions, high ranks, character levels and so on to still achieve, but it’s gone from primary game I’m playing to just casual stints.

I have to say, as much as I do adore this game, the limited roster and small variety of movesets really does weigh the game down significantly. Each character felt unique and interesting in Hyrule Warriors, and most other Warriors games (even the primary Dynasty and Samurai Warriors series with their massive casts) offer a bigger range of different movesets, weapon types, or variety in combat.

By contrast, in Fire Emblem Warriors there’s 35 characters total, but you can drop that to 32 by eliminating gender switches of Robin, Corrin and the main original characters. Of those, maybe a half to two-thirds of them actually possess a totally unique moveset. Everyone has an individual Special and Awakening attack, but beyond this they’ll often play identically. All the Archers, all the Pegasus Knights, the mounted mages, Chrom and Lucina… even Celica plays identically to Marth’s base moveset, which was a serious disappointment after I finally unlocked her.

Content wise and gameplay wise, this game holds up exceptionally well. But the lack of variety in the character isn’t just from the small portion of the overall Fire Emblem series they draw from; it’s also in how the ones included in the game do play. I seriously hope that the DLC characters and any future updates or content manages to diversify it a bit more.

All that said, it really does make me want to play more Fire Emblem games…

Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS) — Back in the saddle

…so I did. I’ll probably shift from this one to a game I haven’t beaten before instead (I’ve been eyeing off Path of Radiance or New Mystery of the Emblem), but in the interim I settled on this one. Hard difficulty, no permadeath, and going to try to focus on characters I didn’t get much use out of in previous playthroughs.

I also selected a male Robin, mainly because I want to throw him and Cordelia together. What? No, I’m certainly not living out any redhead fantasies, what are you suggesting?

Anyway, it’s still fairly early days as I usually just knock out a chapter at night. Unfortunately for my 3DS, now that I have a Switch it’s not the sole system I can use to relax and game with while sprawled out on my bed, so I might not make all that much progress in this playthrough. No matter, we’ll see!

Heroes of the Storm (PC) — Rankings, Loot and Dragons, oh my!

Quite late into the ranked season, I finally bothered to sit down and brave the queue timers in order to finish off my placement games. I went 6 wins/4 losses and landed in Diamond 4, one division higher than I placed in last season. Nice. I then played one additional game, lost it horribly due to poor drafting, and am now sitting on a demotion game… less nice.

Still, I vastly prefer playing with the draft mode on, since it makes for more strategy in setting up team compositions… well, in theory. More often than not it sees me playing a support, or else having to gravitate towards a tank that I don’t particularly enjoy playing. High priority assassins or damage dealers tend to be right out just because everyone wants to play them, so I’ll often end up on a team with three assassins and one support/warrior apiece, which is hardly ideal. No matter.

In other news, I picked up Junkrat after his price went down and have been playing him. Gotta say, I didn’t credit him enough; he’s super fun to play, and can prove a lot more effective than many that I went up again. He’s not necessarily decisive in his damage like a good Valla or Kel’thuzad can be, but his wave clear, poke, and ability to catch out people can be immensely satisfying. He’s insanely squishy though, so I have to play very carefully. Nonetheless, I enjoy him and will probably play him more in the coming days.

Finally, Blizzcon just happened this weekend, and with it we got confirmation that the next two heroes are Alexstrasza and Hanzo. Hanzo actually looks far better than his Overwatch implementation, simply because hitboxes and critical damage isn’t a concern like it is in a first person shooter. I look forward to giving him a shot. That said, the real standout is the first actual “actively fighting as a dragon” dragon character of Alexstrasza, and even if she’s a support she looks super fun and quite effective to play. Going to be saving up my coins for her release, that’s for sure.

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) — Jump up, super star!

It finally clicked for me.

I’m not sure what moment it was, or on what level it finally happened, but I was able to shelf the misgivings and uncertainties I had about the game and how it was coming across. I’m embracing the sheer manic fun and immense variety of the game and getting swept up along in the ride. It’s fantastic, it really is.

There’s certainly a lot that you can go and do, and some of it can seem a little arbitrary, with the occasional Moon just sitting out in the open for you to grab. Those occasions are few and far between though, with the vast majority encouraging you to explore and experiment with your incredibly fluid movement. The lack of lives helps too, since it’s just a few coins as punishment when you inevitably hit the wrong button and faceplant into the side of a building before plummeting into the void after a failed multi-jump.

The sense of having a lot of stuff for the sake of stuff has largely subsided, as so much of it isn’t really necessary. If you just go along, explore at your leisure, and hit up the main objectives at your own pace, you’ll still uncover a wealth of fun stuff to do and charming, varied levels to conquer. The powerups and enemy captures you can acquire mean that every landscape is filled with different challenges, but progress is so rapid and areas so diverse that a gimmick rarely starts to feel overplayed before you’re on to the next one. Not every area is a winner, but enough are that the lackluster ones are quickly left behind, or else still contain some kind of moment that wowed me regardless.

This is one hell of a game. Refreshingly fun and amazingly well designed. I think I know when it finally clicked, now that I think on it: playing through New Donk City’s primary objectives will eventually lead you to a 2D sidescrolling section that serves as a culmination of the zone. All the while, it paints itself as a huge love letter to the original Donkey Kong and the history of Mario games.

I think Dunkey’s review sums it up best at the end: “if you can play this game and not feel some kind of emotion come over you, wipe yourself off man, because you are dead.” Super Mario Odyssey is a hell of a game and I’m looking forward to playing more.

.hack//G.U. – Last Recode (Vol 1) (PS4) — What MMOs never became

I don’t have a huge history with the games and anime of the .hack media series, honestly. I’ve seen and played bits and pieces over the years but never got fully into it. From what I’ve heard, they were among the first and more interesting or well-executed of the “stories set in MMORPGs” approach that spawned the likes of Sword Art Online. Since I’d heard fairly good things, though, and since this bundle is effectively four games for the price of one, I figured I’d pick it up.

So far, I’m quite enjoying myself. I’ve put a few hours into the first volume, and it’s clear that this is a refurbished 2002 game; it’s a bit clunky and kinda basic, but the aesthetic of the series and overall charm of what it’s trying to do is endearing. They’ve done a good job of making a game feel like it’s an online MMORPG without actually being one.

It does have its pitfalls, though. Areas and environments are fairly bland, and the battle system is an enjoyable enough action RPG setup, but it’s overall fairly basic. Getting equipment is largely randomised like an MMORPG would be, and while you can trade with certain NPCs to get this stuff, they can be pretty expensive to bargain with. As such, I can see a fair bit of grind involved if I dive too deeply into it.

But for all of that, I’m having fun. It’s a charming world, an endearing approach to story that combines elements both in and out of its game, and while the cutscenes can be numerous, I haven’t felt as bogged down as other RPGs of its era. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m also curious to note how the developers improved on each volume as they went, since they were developed fairly rapidly together. It’ll be interesting!

The Elder Scrolls Online (PC) — Slowing down at last

For the better part of this writing series, I feel like repeated mentions of Elder Scrolls Online are probably the most numerous. I’ve put a hell of a lot of time into this game and enjoyed myself immensely, but finally — at long last — I can feel the pace and pull towards it slowing down.

I still love the game and I still fully intend to play more of it, finishing the areas that I haven’t touched or polished off yet, but I suspect that the combination of Switch games I’ll be playing and other focuses will finally edge it out. But perhaps the beauty and strength of ESO is that it doesn’t require a subscription like other MMORPGs, so I can just pick it up and go slake my thirst for the sense of continual character progression that draws me to the genre. There’s an article in the works on that topic, actually.

For quest progress, I’m still in the Morrowind section, which sparked today’s Right Click to Zoom article. It’s a fun little bout and it’s definitely higher quality than some of the earlier ESO quest design, with a lot of interesting and occasionally funny moments. I’ve finished the quest thread dealing with the Morag Tong, which I greatly adored, and now I’m chipping away at the primary quest dealing with Vivec and the supposed Nerevarine.

I’d say there’s about a third to a quarter of the map I haven’t traversed just yet, particularly the isle of Sheogorad along the northern edge of the zone as well as the northeast corner. Where it’ll lead and what awaits me there, who can say? I’ll get to it soon enough and let you know, though.

Assassin’s Creed Origins (PS4) — Y, tho?

The question in the title there is what I asked myself this after I bought: why? That’s not to say that it’s a bad game at all, and it certainly doesn’t seem like one, but I’m still wondering exactly what impulse actually compelled me to buy it. Excluding the pirate-centric Black Flag, which was superior to the average Assassin’s Creed game by actually providing variety to the quickly monotonous gameplay loop, I’ve never been a fan of the series. I didn’t even play that much of AC2, and it was widely accepted to be the best.

So what compelled me to buy this one? I’m really not sure. Perhaps going back to the beginning and being less reliant on the massive backlog of lore and modern day elements? A full redesign of the combat system so that it’s actually more varied and playable than the counterattack dance of its predecessors? More development of the engine and gameplay so that it’s something of a modern action RPG instead? My being a sucker for ancient Egyptian history and aesthetics? All of these are likely factors but I honestly couldn’t find an answer for why I bought it.

When I did play it, I enjoyed myself. I’ve played for maybe an hour, but the core systems are pretty good, even if the in media res approach to the story is slightly jarring. Would be nice to get a better feel for the situation and the character before throwing me extremely in the deep end; it can be done well, but I think it was just a little too much here, so we’ll see how it pans out. There’s a big map and evidently lots to do in it, so hopefully it’ll be an enjoyable experience rather than the massive checklist of “meaningless stuff” that so many Ubisoft open worlds fall into the trap of.

The Sparkle 2 EVO (Switch) — Not every indie is a winner

If you scroll back to the top of this post and see that I’ll be working on writing Switch indie reviews, this is the first game I selected on a whim from the eShop. It looks and plays a lot like the microbial segment of Spore, with the idea being to go around, eat what you can that’s smaller than you, and eventually grow into a dominant species.

Going into it, I’d hoped it would be more like the game E.V.O.: Search for Eden back on the SNES, which was more of an evolutionary RPG that saw you evolving specific parts and powers. The presence of special abilities and a Gene Lab that depicts a spiral helix of stats that you accumulate made me feel that it’d be more like that. Sadly, actually playing Sparkle is far more simple than that.

What I got instead is a fairly ambient, relaxing game that is a fairly colourful and pretty experience but overall lacking in substance and, well, actual gameplay. There’s no real challenge, not a lot to do, and I cleared the extent of the content in no time at all. I’ll save the full review for the website, but yeah, it wasn’t what I’d call the best purchase I’ve ever made. Ho-hum. Maybe next time.

A fair few more games this time, as well as the first time I’ve dusted off my PS4 in a bit. There’s still all too many games that I’ve started and left in the dust that are calling out for my attention, though. Will I ever get back to them? Who knows. Soon to come: finished reviews of a couple of games, plus I was just gifted a copy of Divinity Original Sin 2 so that’s on the cards in the coming days. Until then, happy gaming!


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